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This Is What Life’s Like For A Feminist In A Conservative Bengali Family

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By Anonymous for Cake:

It’s been nearly five years now since I moved away from home to pursue a liberal arts education; and in all this time, one particular dilemma has continued to haunt me—reconciling my liberal, feminist ideas with that of my family’s ridiculously conservative and often bigoted ones.

Growing up in a middle-class Bengali family, Within my family, regressive and patriarchal beliefs run rife and sexism, casteism, homophobia and Islamophobia is so thoroughly internalized that I myself was blind to it till recently. Only when I joined a college with strong feminist sentiment did I realize how flawed and problematic my family’s beliefs had been; and then began a frustrating and all-consuming internal conflict that I still haven’t been able to shake off.

Why I Dread Going Home For The Holidays

During my first year of undergrad, I had been slightly homesick, so I was looking forward to meeting my family during winter holidays; but all that excitement faded within the first few days of my arrival.

It was December 2012, and news of the Nirbhaya Rape Case was everywhere. At one point, my father, after commenting on the horrifying nature of the situation, had said something on the lines of ‘she shouldn’t have stayed out so late’. It was such a casual, throwaway comment that I wouldn’t even have paid much attention to it earlier; but my newly-feminist consciousness just could not ignore it. I called my father out on his comment, which led to a fight.

That instance shook me, but once I started paying attention, I saw how these casually sexist and harmful comments were everywhere in my family. They are part of everyday conversations, and are almost dismissed as something ‘normal’. But when you try to speak up against them, you are immediately chided – as if you are a threat to the status quo, which they cannot handle.

The frequency of these comments is almost disturbing. During a gathering, an uncle once said, “Why are you wasting time in higher studies? You’ll end up married and in the kitchen anyway.” This was supposed to be a light-hearted jibe, and many (including my father) had laughed along and when I called them out, both my uncle and father had said, “Relax, it was just a joke.”

On another occasion, when a family friend had broached the subject of my marriage prospects, my father had responded (again, as a joke): “You never know with the kids of today. These days girls want to marry girls, and what not.” In one sentence, he had managed to imply that same-sex relationships were some kind of a fad that the ‘kids of today’ were into. Comments like these kept on coming, and I kept trying to protest them the best I could.

However, there are times when my protests against their beliefs do get through to them (even if it’s in a convoluted way). When the debate surrounding Section 377 was at its peak in December 2013 (coinciding with my winter holidays again), my parents had supported the reinstatement of the law and said things like—’Homosexuality is unnatural,’ ‘Gays are against Indian culture,’ and so on. In an outburst, I had thoroughly challenged their ideas and in an attempt to correct their misconceptions, had done my best to explain to them how they were going wrong. I don’t know whether they really took away anything from what I said, but their remarks soon died down. Whether their mindsets had actually changed or whether they were just trying to appease me, I am not sure; but either way, I saw this as a small victory.

But sadly, moments like these are far less frequent than those when their bigotry bares its claws, and they continue to make ridiculous statements.

It’s Hard To Come To Terms With

These fights have become a regular staple by now – because they are not just an ideological conflict. The source of the resentment is intrinsically tied to my position as the daughter (as a woman, who has to pander to certain behavioral expectations, who cannot afford to have too strong an opinion of her own) and to the patriarchal family structure which stipulates that the parents always ‘know better’. Homecomings for me are, more often than not, cause for conflict. But here’s the thing. I love my parents, and am ridiculously attached to them. Hence, my struggle against their regressive beliefs is rendered even more difficult and emotionally turbulent.

I find myself in this limbo of proudly advocating my own feminist beliefs, and then feeling guilty for souring my relationship with my parents. To make them realize the repercussions of the kind of beliefs they foster, I have sometimes ended up saying something extremely harsh or drastic, and then feeling terrible for hurting them. But when I analyze this particular phenomenon, I realize it’s a product of the patriarchy itself. From a very young age, I’ve been taught that ‘good girls don’t raise their voices’, they ‘don’t challenge the authority of their parents,’ – subtle ways of silencing women and not allowing them to dissent.

To be liberal in a conservative family means to constantly question yourself and to often live in fear and self-doubt, because you don’t know where you fit in, and you don’t have a safe space. Patriarchal conditioning plants self-doubt into the minds of even the most seasoned feminists, and causes them to think, ‘Am I right or are they are right?’

The original article was published here on Cake.


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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